People trying to learn taijiquan often seem to think “oh I have to be gentle” when doing push hands or other exercises so that I can be “soft as cotton” in real fighting. I thought that for a long time and I think most people with little martial, fighting, or sports background or interest tend to think that. We’d like to believe in some kind of “magic”. But being too tentative and gentle from the outset does not seem like the way to learn “4 ounces”. Sure, at first it can be easier to develop various skills by going somewhat slowly, nice and easy, with no power, just like in other movement skills and arts. One should learn to walk before one can run. However, mentally and physically overcompensating for brute force is not the same thing as skill and is not really the path to skill. There is no way to learn “4 ounces” by starting out using only “4 ounces”.

It’s relatively easy to tell if you are using “too much brute force”. However trying too hard in the other direction – to be gentle – is not the same thing as whole body power or internal power or “sticking energy”. Trying to develop in stages rather than skipping right to some advanced level seems like what common sense would dictate. If you try to muscle a technique in any art or sport a lot for a long session, it just feels wrong and inefficient and tires you out. After a while you learn to round those corners off and become more efficient. Why not deflect 1000 pounds with 100 first? Then 80, 50, 40, 20, 10 and so on. 4 ounces will take a long time and assumes you are much, much better than your partner or opponent. It’s also quite natural to do a difficult new skill poorly and crudely at first. That’s ok. Over-analyzing it and then avoiding it is not the same thing as using yi. Trying to overcompensate and avoid mistakes is not necessarily helpful. “Yielding” to them and learning from them is probably much more educational. I think “invest in loss” basically refers to this idea – making mistakes to learn from them as well as “losing” to your partner.

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